Pitch Inertia

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While sports is being seen as the only way-out in youth engagement, Umar Mukhtar found nothing much on ground in infrastructure as most of the funds are being spent as wages to the huge staff that the department employs

A dilapidated stadium in South Kashmir Pulwama district.

For the last many years, the only thing that dominated the “youth engagement” discourse was the sports development. Sports, everybody in the government including the security grid would say, is the only way that engages youth positively.  Sports development was actually hyped as the only panacea “for change”.  There were announcements about massive investment as well.

Contrary to the publicity blitzkrieg, very little is seen on the ground. Hardly the sports loving people could find something going their way.

Ashaq Hussain, 21, is hardly known by his name. He is Sachin Tendulkar in his peer group. A resident of Pulwama, Hussain can be spotted most of the time playing cricket.

Chasing his childhood dream of becoming an international batsman, Hussain plays on streets, deserted roads, especially when it is a curfew or a strike, in the harvested paddy fields during dry winters. His face bears many scars which explain his passion. “I get hit by balls when they bounce on the rough tracks,” Hussain said.

When he was a child, Hussain remembers, there were many grounds in his locality where he used to play.  There were state-owned vast grounds the gasseh charrai lands, which were natural stadiums in and around villages. He would dream that someday these rough fields would turn into the full-fledged stadiums, one day. In the last 10 years, while no stadium came up, these fields disappeared. The land was reclaimed by the populations to improve incomes. At a few places, even government constructed various facilities for the communities.

This shrinking space has forced the sports lovers like Hussain to find alternate grounds for playing or to quit the game and focus on other things.

An elder and a sports lover, Mohammad Ramzan of Bijbehara remember the vast open spaces where they used to play football. “I acknowledge that the times have changed and those strips have disappeared,” Ramzan said. “But the government should have built stadiums over those strips instead of using them at for other purposes.” Lack of playing space, he said; have made the present generation sedentary.

Official figures suggest there are around 100 stadia across Kashmir. Admitting that Kashmir has less playing fields an official at Sports Council said that the Kashmir population comprises of sixty percent of youth which means this number of stadia will never cater to the needs of the youth.“They need more,” he said.

Tragically, only 10 to 20 stadia have the potential to become good ones. “We have taken hold of the strips of the land everywhere and we consider them as the stadia which they basically are not.”

Srinagar has the maximum of 30 playing fields for football, cricket and other games. Rest of Kashmir has 70 playing fields.

Even the youth are aware of this crisis. “Name only one stadium where there are all the basic facilities,” asks Manzoor Ahmad, a passionate cricketer. “Sometimes it can even prove dangerous for the players.”

One could guess the condition of the existing playfields just by a cursory look at Pampore playfield. It was taken by the Sports Council in 2010 and a foundation stone for its renovation was also laid in 2012.  The work on the playground is yet to be finished despite spending a good amount. Shrunken to just 45 kanals from its original 75 kanals, the stadium has always remained an emotional issue for locals. Also the boundary around the stadium, which was constructed in the early 1980s, now stands damaged.

Ironically, locals allege, ‘even the Pampore Municipality uses this stadium as dumping site to dispose-off waste generated in the town’. “This stadium is located near the local municipality office, so it becomes easy for them to dump waste here,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a local resident.

The playing field at Marvel Pulwama exists only in the official records as it remains waterlogged for most of the year.

In Jammu and Kashmir, sports activities and infrastructure are manned by four main bodies: JK Sports Council (JKSC), Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA), Youth Service and Sports and Services (YS&S) and Jammu and Kashmir Football Association (JKFA).

JKSC has a Rs 300 crore budget but most of it goes to its 300 employees as salary. YS$S gets Rs 328 crore budget but mostly it goes as wages to its 7500 employees. The latter is mainly concerned with the sports activities in schools and JKSC is tasked to raise the infrastructure.

Also, the states lone cricket governing body JKCA delivers very little towards the infrastructure building. The association still fights the corruption issues which are deep-rooted and involves the highly influential from the state. JKCA did not only fail in raising the infrastructure but also encouraging talent. Manzoor Pandaw who recently got selected in Indian Premier League (IPL) was sidelined by the JKCA for no reasons.

Kashmir cricketers say they are amazed at the facilities given to their counterparts in other states.  The concept of fitness regimes, diet plans and body workload – small little things that one gets to know in the academies, is still alien to many cricketers here.

“The government could not come up with the cricket academy so far. What else we need to see their seriousness,” Imran, a cricket enthusiast said.

His friend Ishfaq plays under-19. “There are cricketers and football players who have made it to the national and international levels without the playgrounds and infrastructure back at home,” Ishfaq said. “This stands witness to the fact that we have a lot of potentials and if we will be given proper environment we can shine and can make state proud.”  One day, he hopes there are adequate playing spaces and the existing run-down infra is upgraded.

A member of the Sports Council said they have taken it up with the Sports Authority of India. “We got Rs 200 crore central assistance to boost the sporting activities,” he said. “Under this plan, every district would have its own Rs 4 crore indoor sports stadium.”

Also, the renovation and development of Bakshi Stadium is being done with this assistance. A total of Rs 44 crore is being spent on it.

Under the central sponsored Khelo India scheme, J&K got Rs 6 crore for organising different sports events. So far the government has spent half of the amount on different activities.

“When there are no grounds available, no basic facilities how can only organising events help the sports at large,” questions Imran.

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